| 05.01,12. 04:10 AM |
13 Dead as Syria Accuses U.S. of Interfering in Arab League
Syria accused the United States on Wednesday of interfering in Arab League affairs, as a U.S. envoy traveled to Cairo for talks with the bloc about ending the Damascus regime's deadly crackdown on dissent.
Meanwhile, democracy activists have denounced the 22-member Arab bloc over the "unprofessionalism" of a team of peace observers whose presence in Syria has failed to stem the bloodshed.
"The United States is one of the parties which is seeking to rekindle violence by its mobilization and incitement (to violence)," foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Maqdisi said in a statement.
"The U.S. ... statements are a gross interference in the work of the Arab League and an unjustified attempt to internationalize" the issue of Syria, he said.
The bloodshed continued unabated on Wednesday, with the Local Coordination Committees, the main activist group spurring protests on the ground, saying security forces shot dead 10 people in the flashpoint central province of Homs and three others in the provinces of Reef Damascus, Hama and Daraa.
For its part, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two civilians died and four were wounded in the besieged central city of Homs by gunfire from a car likely belonging to the regime.
Another civilian was killed in the city of Hama, to the north of Homs, where Arab League monitors were sent, the Observatory added.
Arab League observers have been in Syria since last week trying to assess the regime's implementation of a peace agreement aimed at ending violence in the country.
The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, would travel to Cairo for consultations with the Arab League about Syria.
Feltman is due to arrive in the Egyptian capital later on Wednesday and is scheduled to hold discussions with the Arab League on Thursday.
His trip was announced as the White House said it is "past time" for the U.N. Security Council to act, as "sniper fire, torture and murder" were continuing in Syria and the Arab League conditions for the regime have been dishonored.
"We want to see the international community stand together united in support of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Despite the presence of the monitors, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi has acknowledged that "there are still snipers" in Syria, but defended the mission for securing prisoner releases and removing tanks from the streets.
The United Nations estimated last month that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown on dissent since March.
The observers were also touring the flashpoints of Dael in southern Daraa province and Harasta, near Damascus, state television reported.
But activists are urging them instead to go to Sabaa Bahrat, in the heart of the capital, where they plan to stage an anti-regime demonstration on Wednesday.
"We invite the Arab League observers to act responsibly and protect the peaceful demonstrators. Our rights are being violated and we will struggle to recover them," they said on Facebook.
Hundreds of regime supporters were already gathering on the same square carrying Syrian flags and chanting slogans in support of President Bashar al-Assad, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.
Making matters worse, Syria's opposition was in disarray and struggling to present a united front despite repeated calls by Western governments for them to put aside differences and join forces in their bid to oust Assad.
A pact agreed on Friday by two of Syria's main opposition factions -- the Syrian National Council (SNC) and National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) -- now appears to be in tatters.
The political agreement signed in Cairo had outlined a "transitional period" should Assad's regime be toppled by the pro-democracy uprising.
However, in a Facebook posting, the Syrian National Council said late Tuesday the "document conflicts with the SNC's political program and with the demands of the Syrian revolution."
Widely regarded as the most inclusive of Syria's opposition alliances, with representation from both the Muslim Brotherhood and parties drawn from the Christian and Kurdish minorities, the SNC has been at odds with some activists over the extent of foreign intervention required to bring change.
There was still no response to the statement from the NCB, an umbrella group of Arab nationalists, socialists, independents and Marxists which also includes Kurds and is staunchly opposed to any foreign military intervention.
A dissident who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity deplored the "divisions" within opposition ranks.
"It is taking time for the opposition to unite. If it was, the regime would have fallen last summer," he said, also lamenting that the international community had so far "refrained from mobilizing its efforts to bring down the regime."
The Arab mission has been mired in controversy since the first observers arrived on December 26, with activists accusing Syria's regime of keeping the monitors on a short leash as it presses on with its lethal crackdown on dissent.
The LCC estimate at least 390 people have been killed since the observers began their mission.